Planet Home book tour — Seattle

  • January 27, 2011 8:21 pm

Back in the day I was a food writer. Which is (part of) the reason I wrote The Conscious Kitchen. Mainly I just really, really love to eat. And especially real food — local, organic, tasty. So I spent some time researching where to eat before heading out on tour. I was really jazzed by what I read about Seattle. There were so many amazing restaurants to choose from that fit in to those categories, and went above and beyond. After much hemming/hawing (and drooling), I settled on Tilth. And here’s why (from their website):

“We feature New American cuisine prepared with certified-organic or wild ingredients sourced from as many local farmers we are able to support. Our executive chef and owner, Maria Hines, is a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef of the Northwest, as well as one of Food & Wine Magazine‚Äôs 10 Best New Chefs of 2005. In 2008, the New York Times deemed Tilth one of the best new restaurants in the country. Tilth received its organic certification from Oregon Tilth, an unaffiliated organization that promotes sustainability.”

My kind of place! Unfortunately, the flight from Denver got in too late for us to go. I was heartbroken, but also tired. Sitting at a table at that point would have been tough. So I loaded up at a Whole Foods near my hotel and climbed into bed with lovely regional cheeses and a tasty local wine to drown my sorrows and prepare myself for the next day.

I didn’t do any broadcast in Seattle, so had time to wander around before meeting with local moms in nearby Edmunds. Here are a few pictures of the gorgeous sculpture garden and the sign I saw instead of flying fish (Pike Place Market is renovating!). Seattle reminded me of San Francisco if you crossbred it with Helsinki (my daughter’s paternal grandmother is Finnish so we have spent lovely time in Finland). Happily I managed great coffee and some tasty food before road tripping to Portland later in the day. What a gorgeous drive. I’d love to go back to both.

Oddly, I’m posting this from way up in the air as I finally make my way back to snowy New York City. American Airlines has wireless. Brave new world.

On way to Portland.

Planet Home Book Tour — Denver

  • January 27, 2011 5:16 pm

Being greeted at Denver airport

I’m stuck in the San Francisco airport waiting to get home to my family so I thought I’d use this time to reflect on the past few days. Last Sunday I flew from New York, where I live, to Denver. That night I ate at a lively local foods spot called Root Down and attempted to sleep. I’m actually a champion sleeper, but flying, hotels, and not being with my family interfere. Giving talks and going on television also make me nervous; I’m used to writing alone! That said I had a warm welcome and a good segment on Good Day Colorado/Denver’s local Fox station and then met with a bunch of local moms to chat about all things green at the Children’s Museum. A grade school/high school friend who has moved to the Denver area even showed up with her son — so nice to see a familiar face. I’m apparently not supposed to admit that I had some altitude sickness, but I’m an over-sharer. So there. Denver was gorgeous, but I did feel much better once we left.Here are some pictures from Denver. I especially adored the personal greeters in the airport who help direct you to your gate or transportation. This lady (above) even let me try on her fabulous hat.

Denver Children's Museum talk/signing books

Planet Home on the 10! Show Philadelphia

  • January 18, 2011 8:30 pm

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Connecting the Dots

  • January 18, 2011 6:42 pm

Our homes hum with electric power, and our neighborhoods are scattered with the poles and wires that deliver it to us. What's less visible is the air and water pollution this system produces.

Generally speaking, the burning of nonrenewable resources creates greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, and emits mercury, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide that dissolve in rain particles and fall to earth (this is known as acid rain). The mercury contaminates fish in our waterways that we then catch and eat, poisoning ourselves.

Even if you don't live near a coal power plant, the pollution travels. New England forests are being harmed by mercury smog from power plants in the Midwest, and there is evidence now that emissions from Chinese power plants are reaching the West Coast of America. That's quite a system.

Find out where our electricity comes from and how we can do better in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

Electronics Recycling

  • January 18, 2011 6:34 pm

Many resources go into creating electronics. Keeping old versions for as long as you're willing to use them reduces both the consumption of these resources and e-waste.

When you're truly through with an item, try to reuse before recycling. Move an unwanted VCR and your old VHS tape collection into a guest bedroom, where it might delight a visitor. Give your out-of-favor TV to a relative or friend who could use it, or donate it to an organization. If all else fails, take it to an electronics recycling event.

Whatever you do, make sure it doesn't wind up in a trash heap. Older CRT TVs contain lead and other toxic chemicals–not something we need more of in our landfills. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a good resource for locating responsible recyclers in each state. Unfortunately, not all recyclers are trustworthy, and some don't handle your electronics as they claim they're going to. TakeBack maintains a list of TV companies with take-back programs. also helps connect conscious consumers to electronics recyclers.

Find more tips on conscious consuming and electronics recycling in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

Storing Safely

  • January 18, 2011 6:19 pm

Plastics are everywhere in the kitchen. And it seems that there are news reports daily on the hazards of hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastics, which get into our food, beverages, and even baby formula.

Although there are plastics on the market that are generally considered safe to use with food, there is a growing body of evidence showing that plastics need to be treated gently, washed by hand, and never, ever placed in a microwave, where their chemicals leach into what's being heated, especially things with a high fat content, like meat and cheese.

Plastics are also derived from a nonrenewable resource (petroleum), and not all kinds are recyclable. Even the ones that are recyclable often wind up overcrowding landfills or floating around in our waterways.

It might be difficult (but not impossible) to avoid plastic packaging at the supermarket. When it comes to storing your leftovers at home, why not bypass plastics altogether–baggies, wrap, or containers–and use reliable, renewable, and reusable containers made of glass, stainless, steel, and lead-free ceramic instead.

Glass storage containers are widely available, or you can use what you already have in your kitchen: old jelly, peanut butter, or pickle jars. Glass can also go in the freezer–just make sure to leave enough room for liquid to expand.

If you'd like a replacement for plastic wrap, try a reusable wrap, or opt for was paper coated in non-genetically-modified (GM) soy wax instead of petroleum-derived wax.

This way you won't have to worry about what's migrating into your food or hope the plastic currently considered safe doesn't become tomorrow's must-avoid.

Find more info on keeping your home plastic-free in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

The Real Expense of Food

  • January 18, 2011 5:48 pm

Many people complain about the price of organic food. An organic apple costs considerably more than its conventional counterpart at a supermarket. But here's what is expensive about conventional apples: the ecological toll of the chemical sprays used to grow them plus the health toll of those sprays both on the orchard workers and the people who ingest their residue.

And if you knew that the farmer down the road—who maybe has known your family for generations—was struggling and needed to charge a bit more to stay afloat and to compete with the larger corporations that are able to charge less per pound, wouldn't you be willing to pay a little more? That relatively little price difference will provide us, our families, the farmers, and the earth with a huge bonus along with a sweet, healthful snack.

Larger farms will sell produce more cheaply by externalizing their costs onto society and the environment. They don't pay the cost of polluting the water with pesticides, or for the soil erosion they cause, or the impact of petroleum-based fertilizers—we do! The price difference can be made up by limiting packaged foods—they add up—shopping wisely, and buying a farm share.

If you're going to buy conventional produce, keep in mind that some fruits and vegetables are more contaminated than others. The Environmental Working Group has ranked pesticide contamination for almost 50 of the most popular fruits and vegetables, and have come up with the "Dirty Dozen," a list of 12 fruits and vegetables you should buy organic whenever possible:

celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries (domestic), nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale, potatoes, grapes (imported)

Find more tips like these in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

Walk This Way

  • January 18, 2011 5:11 pm

In order to keep outdoor pollutants outside, shoes should be taken off near where you enter the house. Outdoor shoes track in a vast majority of the dust and chemicals found in household rugs and on floors (this includes allergens, pesticides, and lead, plus other carcinogens and endocrine disruptors).

Taking off your shoes before entering a house is the public-health equivalent of washing your hands. A large majority of the dirt in any home arrives on the soles of our shoes, and removing them will help keep your house cleaner. Mud, water, snow, and animal feces are not pleasant, but the real issues here are the invisible ones: pesticide residues if you live in an agricultural area or if your neighbors spray their lawns, automotive exhaust, and chemical contaminants from your workplace. You do not want these substances in your home.

If you don't like walking around barefoot, invest in a funky sock collection or comfortable slippers. And don't be shy about asking guests and visitors to remove their shoes before entering your home. The more people encounter and learn about shoe-free homes, the more likely they are to institute similar policies in their own. You can even provide slippers to your guests.

Find more info on keeping your home dust-, allergen- and chemical-free in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

Also, check out the article I wrote for The Daily Green about keeping your shoes off in the house.


Your Houseplants Can Work for You

  • January 18, 2011 4:46 pm

Throw open the windows in your home or office to improve the indoor air quality. Remember that the air outside is likely to be much cleaner than the air inside, even in the city. To purify air—and make your space look nice—add plants, which are natural air purifiers that can absorb formaldehyde, benzene, and other chemicals that aren't great to breathe.

Plants won't filter everything, but every little bit helps. To be most effective, use a lot (a NASA study recommends 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in six- to eight-inch-diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800-square-foot-house), and don't forget to water them.

The plants that filter out the most unwanted chemicals are:

  • Boston fern
  • Areca palm

A few other great bets and the gases they absorb:

  • Aloe vera (formaldehyde)
  • Ficus (formaldehyde)
  • Spider plant (carbon monoxide)
  • English ivy (benzene, formaldehyde)
  • Bamboo palm (formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene)
  • Rubber plant (formaldehyde)
  • Peace lily (alcohols, acetone, formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene)

For more info on plants, see "How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 House Plants that Purify Your Home or Office," by B.C. Wolverton.

Find more tips like these in "Planet Home: Conscious Choices for Cleaning & Greening the World You Care About Most."

The Conscious Kitchen in The Toronto Star

  • January 16, 2011 5:28 pm

Thanks to The Toronto Star for mentioning The Conscious Kitchen in this article on how to handle food waste.

“Whether we eat at restaurants, in work or school cafeterias or at home, we should reduce waste (the first R in the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra).

‘When standing in front of your garbage, the choice shouldn’t only be recycle or throw away,’ writes U.S. author Alexandra Zissu in The Conscious Kitchen. ‘There’s no such thing as `away.’ It’s just elsewhere.’

So learn to love your leftovers.”

Agreed! And compost everything else!